"It’s not a vacation; it’s just taking the show on the road." That’s what my older sister warned me about traveling with kids. I thought I understood at the time, but the reality didn’t fully sink in until the first time we packed up the baby and a Conestoga wagon–worth of gear for a trip to the family lake house — and proceeded to occupy ourselves with exactly the same endless round of baby-caring tasks that had filled 25 hours a day at home. Only by a lake.
I spent my early 20s on the road. I lived for weeks at a time out of an L.L. Bean school backpack. I thought nothing of walking into a foreign train station, decoding the word for "ticket counter," and negotiating with the middle-aged lady behind the glass until we found a mutually agreeable language.
Today, when it’s four tickets not one, when checked baggage is an inevitability, when that L.L. Bean backpack would barely hold the snacks and coloring books for the flight, when the cost of a ticket that once carried me from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic won’t even cover our lunch in the airport, I cower at the very thought of family travel. I grow surly before the first pair of Stride Rites hits the security conveyer belt. I beg relatives to come visit us. I argue that the kids are far too young to remember anyway and we should postpone travel until they’re, oh, 18.
But, the truth is, I never lost the itchy feet, the urgent need to get the heck out of Dodge, if only for a couple of days. I just need to readjust my sights: For the time being, at least, it’s Duluth, not Dublin; South Dakota, not the south of France; Red Wing, not Rio de Janeiro. We’ll get to know our own little bend in the river before we see the world.
And so, we bring you the family road trip: a time-honored tradition condensed into two easy daytrips, to destinations that don’t get the attention they deserve: Mystery Cave and the Laura Ingalls Wilder homestead. All you need to pack is a picnic and maybe one sweater per potentially whiny human. If even that’s too much, your train-loving kids can have an adventure right here in the Twin Cities, no foreign-language skills required.